Friday, 14 December, 2018

After 37 years, Voyager 1 has fired up its trajectory thrusters

After 37 years, Voyager 1 has fired up its trajectory thrusters After 37 years, Voyager 1 has fired up its trajectory thrusters
Theresa Hayes | 03 December, 2017, 00:23

At 13 billion miles from Earth, there's no technician workshop nearby to get a tune-up. Being able to use the backup thrusters means the lifespan of Voyager 1 has been extended by two or three years, said Ms Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager.

After 37 years of disuse, a set of thrusters aboard Voyager 1 activated on Wednesday, firing up humanity's farthest-flung spacecraft and hopefully giving it a longer life than it had before.

NASA launched Voyager 1 way back in 1977. They were for "trajectory correction maneuvers" (TCM), and while similar, they were supposed to be used continuously in order to change Voyager's direction as it maneuvered around Jupiter and Saturn. The probe, which has been flying for 40 years, depends on small tools called thrusters to orient itself so it can interact with Earth. These are located on the back of the spacecraft and are identical to the thrusters that they've used so far.

The spacecraft - now over 141 times the distance between the earth and the sun - is expected to go dark some time in the next five years as the remaining energy is depleted.

Jones, chief engineer at JPL, stated that the Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and tested the software that was coded in an old assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters. Then they waited 19 hours, 35 minutes for the test results to arrive at an antenna in Goldstone, California.

Aerojet Rocketdyne developed all of the Voyager's thrusters.

The engineers fired up the thrusters on Tuesday and tested their ability to turn Voyager using 10-millisecond pulses. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as diminished as Voyager 1's, however.

But after four decades of exploration which have taken in fly-bys of Jupiter and Saturn, engineers found that the primary thrusters which orient the space probe had severely degraded. "The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all", Jones' colleague, Todd Barber, added.

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January, it said.

Voyager 2 lags behind, but according to NASA, the spacecraft is following the lead of the first Voyager and is on course to enter interstellar space in the coming years.

Although the Voyager 1's twin spacecraft-Voyager 2-launched just 16 days after Voyager 1, its standard thrusters appear to be in much better shape, NASA officials wrote. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.